A bold move that sends the LHSAA’s State Wrestling tournament back to Bossier City for a second time highlighted the afternoon portion of the executive committee meeting Wednesday at the LHSAA office.
The committee rejected bids from the traditional host, Kenner’s Pontchartrain Center, and Baton Rouge’s River Center, putting the tourney back at the CenturyLink Arena for the first time since its one-year run in 2011.
A 13-5 vote to send the two-day north for 2016-17 came after the executive committee rejected a motion to approve the River Center as the site. There was no vote on the Pontchartrain Center, which has hosted the event for most of the past 20 years.
The afternoon session also included a football officials’ association change with the South Louisiana Football Officials Association being sanctioned in place of the River Parish Football Officials Association.
Airline Principal Jason Rowland and Ouachita’s Todd Guice started the discussion about sending the wrestling tourney to the Shreveport-Bossier area.
When it was noted that there are only 10 to 12 wrestling schools in north Louisiana compared to 80 to 90 in south Louisiana, Rowland said, “Aren’t we looking to generate interest in sports with the events we host? When it was held there (CenturyLink Arena) the last time we did see interest in wrestling grow.”
Another key factor in the process was the zero cost bid offered by the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission along with $10,000 in incentives. Organizers also said hotel rooms for coaches would be paid for.
The proposal was eerily similar to the one from the now-defunct Shreveport Regional Sports Authority that netted the 2011 bid, something Shreveport-area officials later said the group wasn’t authorized to give. The tourney returned to the Pontchartrain Center the following year.
Though the other bids also offered options that would eliminate facility rental, the Shreveport-Bossier bid was deemed the sure/best deal.
The Baton Rouge Area Sports Foundation fielded questions about its bid that required 4,000 spectators to attend in order for the River Center rental to be waived. The cost would be reduced by percentages for attendance under 4,000.
“I’ve been going to (the state wrestling tournament) for a long time and I think New Orleans has done a great job,” Brusly Principal Walt Lemoine said. “As B.J. (Guzzardo, assistant executive director, wrestling coordinator) mentioned in his report, New Orleans is a hotbed for wrestling.
“We might have outgrown the Pontchartrain Center and I thought the River Center would have been a good place. I went to it when it was in Shreveport and they did a good job with it. I just feel like the meat of wrestling is here.”
Catholic coach Tommy Prochaska expressed his disappointment. Guzzardo said the LHSAA will have to pay the New Orleans crew that has coordinated the meet for decades to work it in Bossier.
“I’m disappointed,” Prochaska said. “I thought we’d be able to get it in Baton Rouge. I thought it would benefit the sport to have it here. My concern is fan support.
“The casual fan is not going to make that trip. The LHSAA runs a business and it’s a financial decision. And I get that.”
The executive committee approved the South Louisiana Football Officials Association to handle games in the River Parishes area in the fall on the recommendation of Assistant Executive Director Keith Alexander, who coordinates officials.
Alexander told the executive committee that the River Parish association had not followed guidelines in recent years, including requirements to attend a yearly statewide clinic.